FAA proposes new rules for drone use

For a hobby, Jenly Chen flies unmanned aircraft.

"I've really invested a lot of money into it," he said.

Someday Chen wants to make money off his drones, taking aerial pictures for profit.

"You can get absolutely stunning shots and sell those shots," he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration's just released proposals for regulating small commercial drones would allow operators to fly their vehicles to an altitude of 500 feet. The FAA set the weight limit for the aircraft at 55 pounds.

"The real application in the commercial world is just gang busters." said Larry Osborn of DreamHammer.

The company develops software for drones. Osborn said once final rules are ready, small businesses across America will put their drones to work.

"A lot of them are small operators that want to do things like show real estate, for example, and be able to have an overhead view of the property," he said.

The UAVs could be used by farmers to monitor fields, or by photographers to capture airborne images. Applications are endless. Some feared the FAA would set strict standards for commercial drone pilots.  Instead the agency will require that the pilot be 17 or older and pass a written test at an aviation training center.

"As long as the operators have a general knowledge of FAA regulations they don't need to be rated pilots," Osborn said.

A commercial drone could not fly over crowds, but one aspect that worries operators is distance. A pilot would have to be able to see the drone every moment it's airborne.

"It could be far distances where it gets out of sight of the operator," Chen said. "That's where these bigger companies are a bit worried about these new rules."

The federal rules proposal comes as state lawmakers debate a number of drone bills. One protects citizens privacy by allowing only law enforcement to use drones for surveillance. Another measure restricts drone use.  Another calls for funding to set up Hawaii as a drone test site.

"The FAA owns the airspace. They'll determine what the rules are," Osborn said.

The public can comment on the FAA's drone proposals. Meantime, Chen and other Hawaii drone pilots are preparing to do business.

"They're ready to go and they're ready to start making money," he said.

It could be a couple years before the final rules are in place.

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Copyright 2015

. All rights reserved.